English Heritage To Reveal 100-Year-Old Aerial Photos Of Stonehenge

By Graham Spicer | 13 July 2006
black and white aerial photo of stonehenge

The first aerial photos of Stonehenge were taken 100 years ago from a tethered balloon. Photo English Heritage

English Heritage is celebrating the centenary of the first aerial photographs of Stonehenge with a touring exhibition opening at the Neolithic site.

Dozens of vintage and modern photographs will tell the story of the first images and explore the world of aerial photography in Victorian, Edwardian and wartime Britain, and will look at how they have helped our understanding of 6,000 years of British history and pre-history.

“Aerial photography is most useful in helping us understand the human use and development of the landscape around Stonehenge,” said Dave Batchelor, chief Stonehenge archaeologist at English Heritage.

black and white aerial photo of stonehenge

Stonehenge has been photographed from the air many times since the first photos in 1906. Photo English Heritage

“This detailed understanding is used daily in our management of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and contributes to the enjoyment of the many thousands of visitors every year.”

Lieutenant Phillip Henry Sharpe of the Royal Engineers’ Balloon Section took the first three aerial photos of the famous site from a tethered balloon in 1906. He was based in the Sappers’ Balloon Section located just one mile from Stonehenge, where military ballooning and then fixed wing aviation developed before the Royal Flying Corps (later the RAF) was founded in 1912.

After the photos were published in the journal of the Society of Antiquaries in 1907 archaeologists gradually came to realise the value of aerial photography as a key technique to discover, record and interpret traces of the past.

colour aerial photo of stonehenge

Aerial photography plays a major role in modern archaeology. Photo English Heritage

“Today aerial survey is the single most important tool for the discovery of archaeological sites in this country,” said Pete Horne, Head of Aerial Survey and Investigation at English Heritage.

Every year hundreds of new sites are found through the English Heritage National Mapping Programme, ranging from Neolithic long barrows to Roman villas, medieval villages and World War Two defences.

“Experts study new photographs as well as old ones, using interpretation, mapping and analysis skills to draw out the valuable information they contain,” added Pete. “As a result of their study, we discover more about the past and gain a greater insight into the changes that have taken place.”

The new exhibition, 100 Years of Discovery, will be on display at Stonehenge from August 1 to 7 2006 and will then tour other English Heritage sites around the country. For full details see the English Heritage website.

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